Wednesday, June 10, 2015

AFI Top 100: #59 "Nashville"

Ronee Blakley as Barbara Jean in Nashville (1975)

It's almost impossible to explain why this movie was so confounding and frustrating to watch. It's not bad. It's simply too strange to be classified. Even the trailer defines it as "the damnedest thing you ever saw"... depending on you and you alone, that is either a good thing, or a bad thing. Me? I disliked nearly every second of AFI's #59 movie, Nashville. Director Robert Altman's critical satire about fame, Americana, politics, and the people that embody it, all focused within the city limits of the country music mecca.

There are, at least, twenty different characters gifted near-equal screen time in this film. They range from established Nashville country stars (Ronee Blakley as the fragile Barbara Jean; Karen Black as the giant-haired Connie White; and Henry Gibson as the cruel Haven Hamilton) and country music wannabes (Gwen Welles as the talentless and delusional Sueleen Gay, or Barbara Harris as flighty Albuquerque) to artists, politicos, and reporters on the periphery (Keith Carradine, Lily TomlinBarbara Baxley, Ned Beatty, Geraldine Chaplin as the most annoying person on the planet, and Shelley Duvall, just to name a few!) This melting pot of ego, jealousy, determination, loneliness, and patriotism is dumped into the street, and you're forced to wade through it in the pursuit of meaning, validation, and closure. Oh, and Jeff Goldblum shows up constantly too, riding a motortrike and being all Goldblum-y.

However these people find their way into the same place (everyone is introduced in the first 15 minutes at a scene in the airport, then come together again, more or less, for the film's epic finale at the "Parthenon"), their focus never drifts far beyond themselves. Selfishness is a form of survival for these peopleit keeps them from slipping into obvious madness, even as the strong arm of government descends upon them. The political climate is uncertain and fame is fickle, but everyone, for some ungodly reason, wants to be a part of it.

Altman constructs scenes that make no decisions about what they're about. Rather, everything happens all at once, with no cohesive story unfolding, even though some (if not all) of our characters are present. We're loosely led in the same direction, a grouping of disconnected persons drifting towards a singular eventthe political rallyand despite the story's attempts to divert us, we soldier on, creating expanded stories and reasoning in our minds. Why is that woman backstage? How did that guy get there? Why do these people keep showing up? We must decide, as the audience, which events, people, or dialogue are worth our time. An almost impossible task during a first viewing, but daunting for even the most patient person.

As a result, this movie feels, on the surface, like a disaster of indescribable proportions. Altman is not interested in doing the work for you, so as a result, you struggle to piece together what you're seeing and why you're seeing it. For many films, this is a welcome challengebut for Nashville, it was an infuriating ask, one that I decided I couldn't fulfill. My disconnect from the 1970s, the decade that the movie simultaneously honors and criticizes, may well be the reason it didn't speak to me. The music is purposefully inconsistentsome songs are good, some are unbearable, but either way, you have to listen to it all. At a certain point, it becomes mind-numbing and laughable. I'm sure Altman would consider that 'mission: accomplished.'

My biggest complaint is that individually, most of the scenes are fantastic. There is scene when Tomlin's Linnea, seduced by the allure of a crooning Carradine's relentless pursuit of her, cheats on her clueless husband. Reluctantly though, she must return home, and once Carradine realizes that imploring her to stay is fruitless, he casually and callously picks up the phone to call another woman, all while Tomlin slides her slip back on. Utter brilliance. Scenes of this gravitas and gripping truth, though, are few and far between. Once everything is strung together, the film becomes exhausting and ridiculous. Regardless of its claim of satire, it doesn't excuse the dozens of characters shoe-horned into sequences that don't make any sense, many that go on for 5-8 minutes too long.

This just might be the most difficult review I've ever attempted to write. I struggled with my thoughts about Nashville, my opinions about the good and the bad, and while I can acknowledge its significance, I have to consider whether this is a movie I would ever want to see again. The answer is unequivocally "No."  Since screening this, I've read a lot about the movie from other amateur and professional critics alike. I had to understand what others saw in it that I did not. The consensus appears to be that it's a film that should bemust beviewed multiple times. You will be rewarded with a greater appreciation when you can experience the layers 'peel away.'

Be that as it may, with Nashville's 3-hour run time, it's not an appreciation I feel that I need in my life.

Rating:  ★½ / 5 stars

[Watch the Trailer] | [Read More AFI Top 100 Reviews] | [images © Paramount Pictures]

Check back next week for #58 on the list, The Gold Rush — or better yet, have your own viewing party and watch along with us!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...